Going Slow and Low



Food texture is important in most Asian cuisines. So, use the right cooking technique for different cuts of meat to get the optimum texture for a particular dish.

I came across an interesting poem by Su Shi, a poet, painter, calligrapher, pharmacologist, gastronome, and statesman of the Song dynasty. Su Shi, also known as Su Dongpo, was apparently the creator of Dong Po Pork, the famous dish of braised belly pork from Hangzhou.

He wrote this poem entitled ‘Eating Pork’:

慢着火、少着水  
柴火罨焰烟不起
待它自熟莫催它
火候足它自美

Low-temperature, less water
Small flames, a little smoke
Let it cook and never hasten
The right heat gives a natural taste

Note the advice of this sage: “Let it cook and never hasten.”

If you use high heat on meat in the hope that the cooking process can be shortened, the meat will shrink, harden and lose most of its flavours. This is true especially for tougher cuts like pork ribs and pork belly which typically need longer cooking time.

If you braise meat gently or go ‘slow and low’, you will achieve an optimum balance of flavour and texture. You are aiming to achieve what is called song hau in Cantonese – a texture with toothsome succulence. You do not want the meat to be falling apart like the American version of pulled pork.

Many cooking techniques, such as steaming, braising over low fire, double boiling and even setting modern ovens to low, observe this ‘slow and low’ principle. Sous Vide cooking is one easy way of cooking with precise control of low temperature.

This ‘slow and low’ approach is useful when cooking Tau Yew Bak (page xx), various pork rib recipes, beef rending (page xx) and braised pork knuckle. The lower temperature ensures the fats, key to the texture of these dishes, are not melted away.   

Understanding and being patient with your cooking will help you to get better results.

As it is said in Proverbs 16:32:

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

Don’t rush your meat dishes.